Fair warning: We are about to fall into the rabbit hole. (For those of you unfamiliar with Alice in Wonderland, you are excused for a few minutes to Google, but don’t forget to come back.)
Two loosely related news items this weekend immediately got my attention and sent me scurrying to the internet to read more.
The first was a report that eight Houston ISD schools have been fined a total of $73,000 for selling food that violates Texas Department of Agriculture regulations.
The second was an explanation of HB 751, proposed by Texas representative Richard Pena Raymond, and HB 523, proposed by Rep. Terry Canales. The two bills would work together to ban the purchase of sodas, junk food, and energy drinks by recipients of the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
I know, I know. It’s Texas. They are big and powerful. They could be their own country. They rival California in the “we do our own thing and you can’t stop us” faction. However…it IS Texas and they ARE our closest neighbor. We cross their border daily. We shop in their stores. We trade students with them every year. We tend to copy their actions more often than not. So I think it benefits us all to pay close attention to these two reports.
Anyone with a child must be aware by now that major changes have been made in school cafeterias across the country. Everything from what children are served to how it is cooked as been changed. Menus continue to vary from state to state and district to district, but the bottom line is supposed to be better, healthier food. So there are regulations regarding the sale of “competitive” foods such as soda, candy, and junk food. Many schools, especially elementary schools, restrict when and how often these can be sold, even as fund raisers. So, one of the coaches in Houston got into trouble for selling fried chicken to raise money for his team. My only comment about this story is that I hope my own district is VERY clear about what we can and cannot sell, because I sure don’t want us to lose money in a dispute over food regulations!
The second story is a bit more disturbing and has some insidious implications. Those of you who are still picketing and protesting about your right to carry an assault weapon to shoot a turkey should probably start being alarmed about your right to buy a honey bun. Just sayin’.
These two Texas legislators have great intentions. They want to make sure that taxpayer money isn’t spent on sodas, junk food, and energy drinks that would contribute to the unhealthy diets of people who would then require more healthcare and cost us even more money. Canales makes the additional point that energy drinks are dangerous: "There's nothing nutritious or healthy about these products, and in fact they're potentially dangerous to children and we don't believe that you should be able to be using government funds to be buying them." Amen.
Am I my brother’s keeper? This is a complicated issue. On the one hand there is the Bible’s admonition to care for the hungry and thirsty. On the other is Cain’s attitude and perspective, “How do I know? Am I supposed to keep tabs on what my brother is doing?” And there is also the idea that a “kept” person, like an animal in a zoo, is not only safely housed and feed, but is also highly restricted, monitored, and prevented from escaping.
Think of this legislation in terms of being a parent. The basic premise of parenthood is that if a child is in my care, in my house, then that child has to eat what I buy, wear the clothes I purchase, play with the toys I allow, and follow the rules I establish…or suffer the consequences. We all know how perfectly that works!
So how would a bill banning the sale of soda, junk food, and energy drinks actually work? I can see that it would be pretty easy to identify sodas and energy drinks, but who decides what is labeled “junk food” and what is not? At 500 calories, 890mg of sodium, and 28g of sugar, I think the pizza Lunchables should surely qualify!! And what would be the consequences of non-compliance? Fines? Removal from the program? If the issue is really monitoring the health of the individual, would they be punished for making a deal with their neighbors and trading an apple for a bag of chips? Can we also prevent them from buying cigarettes or alcohol? How about banning them from eating at McDonald’s? That would definitely tip the scales in the right direction!
My point is that this is a very limited “solution” to a very big problem and I’m not sure it wouldn’t create even more problems. And of course anything of this nature requires millions of dollars in implement and enforce. Something to think about…